As a result of the escalation of violence this summer between Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has recently threatened to launch a large-scale operation against PKK bases in Iraq's Kurdistan Region, possibly in cooperation with Iran. According to a statement by the army command, this operation would be led "until the North of Iraq will be turned into a secure residential area and the terror organization that uses the area as a launch pad for attacks will be eliminated.”
Turkey is even more comforted in its policy insofar as it has been assisted by the U.S., since Washington provides Ankara with real-time intelligence regarding PKK localizations in Iraq and has agreed to deploy predator drones to aid its ally in its fight against the Kurdish “terrorists.”
But is the U.S. right to support Turkey’s military strategy to solve the Kurdish issue? Certainly not. The 33-year-old conflict of Turkey opposing the PKK has shown that the military option has not produced any positive results to end the conflict. A 10,000-strong incursion in February 2008 did not eliminated the PKK as it has always been supported by the Kurdish diaspora in Europe. As Turkish political scientist Cengiz Aktar sums it up, "the problem is that the Turkish conflict did not start in the Kandil Mountains. It did not start with the PKK. It's a hundreds-year-old problem, and it could be solved only at [the] negotiation table."
The U.S. position is delicate. The country fears that after its withdrawal, set at the end of the year, Iraq will fall deeper into chaos, and it cannot allow a further destabilization of the country, especially of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, the only region that can actually be qualified as stable in the aftermath of the intervention in Iraq.
In the last two decades, northern Iraq has become an economically thriving region, notably thanks to the strong political and economic relations forged with Turkey. Turkey has become Iraq's largest import partner and first oil importer. Ankara has also become a precious ally to Erbil (the Kurdish capital), which struggles to reach agreements with Baghdad on several sensitive issues, and mistrusts Iran, which favors a strong Shiite Iraq. Therefore, the U.S. seems to rely on Turkey to counter the competing Iranian and Saudi influence in Iraq.
However, the Kurdistan Regional Government has made it clear that Turkish operations in Iraq highly jeopardize the Ankara-Erbil relationship, as they regularly cause the death of Iraqi civilians. Allowing Turkey to further invade the Kurdistan region may help break the fragile balance created in Iraq and in the region. The U.S. might be leaving the region in the hands of a rising and unchecked Turkish power in the Middle-East.
America should encourage Turkey to call for peace and initiate negotiations to sincerely accommodate the Kurds’ demands for more rights and autonomy. This policy is likely to work since the Kurds are now integrated into the democratic process: the newly elected 36 MPS from the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), who have been boycotting the parliament until now, have agreed to go back to parliament to "defend peace against war more powerfully."
They are ready to advocate more rights and autonomy for the Kurds, notably within the framework of the 2012 new constitution. The Turkish Kurds are increasingly turning against the PKK and its attacks against innocent civilians. Nevertheless, it is only when the Kurds realize they are taken seriously by the state that they will stop supporting the PKK and that the latter will eventually put its arms down. It is only through negotiations that the Turkish Kurds have a chance to achieve a similar success as their Iraqi brothers.
Helping Turkey intervene in north Iraq can only pursue the endless cycle of violence in which Turkey is involved with the PKK, and, worse, it might trigger an even more chaotic situation in Iraq and in the whole region.
Washington should push Ankara to reach a peaceful settlement to put an end to a conflict which has already claimed the lives of around 40,000 people, mostly Kurds, and cost Turkey $300 billion, thus allowing Iraqi Kurdistan to enjoy its newly acquired freedom in peace.
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